Question 1): MIRS newsletter reported over the week-end that “The dirt Democrats will shovel on Kristina Karamo (the GOP’s preferred Secretary of State candidate) and Matt DePERNO, the likely GOP Attorney General nominee, is deep and Republicans activists know and are privately worried.” This sort of speculation about the negative effect Karamo/DePerno are likely to have on the Michigan Republican ticket this fall is nothing new — it’s been the incessant drumbeat of the Democrats and most of the news media. But how rooted in reality is such a disaster scenario?
Answer 1): It’s not. Democrats are cynically exploiting such speculation about an electoral apocalypse for the GOP because it serves their purposes, but the news media should know better. They don’t, though, either out of ignorance of Michigan’s political history or because they’re content to buy into the Democrats’ narrative, or both. Fact is, whatever happens to Karamo and DePerno this fall, it’s unlikely to have any effect whatsoever on what happens to all the other races, from governor all the way to the bottom of the ballot — all anybody has to do is look at what’s happened in the past. If there is in fact a “red wave” building, incumbent Democrats Jocelyn Benson and Dana Nessel are unlikely to be a “firewall” to stop it.
Let’s take two examples — in 1966, Republicans had a “wave” year long before the more recent 1994 and 2010 wave years. What they did then was amazing — the GOP picked up five seats in Congress (flipping the delegation), gained control of the state Senate, got a tie in the state House that led to a majority a few months later, swept all the education board seats, re-elected George Romney in a landslide, and knocked off a Supreme Court justice. But what DIDN’T Republicans win? Attorney General and Secretary of State, where incumbents Frank Kelley and James Hare easily won re-election. Yet these two races had ZERO impact on the rest of the ballot. Let’s turn it around, if we want to look at something more recent — 2006. It was a DEMOCRATIC “wave” year — nationally and in Michigan. Here, Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm was re-elected big-time, and Democrats recaptured control of the state House for the first time in eight years, and ALMOST got a tie in the Senate, which would have allowed them to control it with Lt. Gov. John Cherry’s tie-breaking vote. They swept the education board races and set themselves up to win a Congressional seat two years later. But guess who else won? Republican Attorney General Mike Cox and Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land. In other words, these two offices are likely to have NO effect on other races this fall — the general public doesn’t pay much attention to these officeholders (shocking! we know they think they’re major figures, right?), and there is little chance that what happens in their re-election efforts has much effect on anything else.
By the way, would a Tom Leonard nomination for the Michigan GOP have meant a greatly enhanced chance the Republicans could knock off Dana Nessel? And how about state Rep. Beau LaFave? Would he have had a greatly improved chance of beating Jocelyn Benson? Polling so far indicates that NO Republican challenger against either of these women would have much chance at all. Polling conducted by Target Insyght for MIRS a few weeks ago showed that DePerno was behind 49% to 31% to Attorney General Dana NESSEL in a head-to-head race. Tom LEONARD and Ryan BERMAN were both at 47% to 34%. Is that a big difference?
Secretary of State Jocelyn BENSON was up 50% to 33% over Rep. Beau LAFAVE (R-Iron Mountain) in a general election. Benson was up 50% to 25% against Karamo (See “Trump Has Big Bump For GOP Nod, Not So Much In General Election,” 4/6/22). Same question.
So, wizen up, Michiganders! Familiarize yourselves with the history, and do the math …
Answer 2): Michigan Supreme Court (two seats are at stake): Incumbent Brian Zahra, seeking his second full term, was renominated. Paul Hudson, a Miller Canfield appellate lawyer who has served as lead counsel in over 150 cases in the state appeals court system, was the GOP’s second nomination for the high bench. The two Republicans are vying to face the Democratic Party’s endorsees, incumbent Justice Richard Bernstein and State Rep. Kyra Harris Bolden (D-Southfield), in the general election. If elected, the 33-year-old Bolden would be the first female African-American ever to serve on the high court. Keep in mind that the court now has a 4-3 Democrat/Republican tilt, so if Bernstein and Bolden both win, the Dem advantage would expand to 5-2. Conversely, if Zahra and Hudson both win, the GOP would regain control of the court, 4-3. If there’s a split verdict, which is probable (with the incumbents both winning), the D/R ratio would stay the same. These seats are for eight-year terms. The last time Zahra and Bernstein both ran was 2014, with incumbent Zahra finishing first and then-challenger Bernstein the runner-up. Remember, these candidates run “in a pack,” meaning that the top two finishers both win.
State Board of Education (two seats are up): The two Republican endorsements are vying to face incumbent Democrat Pamela Pugh as well as PhD. educator Mitchell Robinson, another Democrat, in the general election. Pugh is seeking reelection for a second term and Robinson, following a 40-year teaching career, is seeking a first term on the board. The two Republicans endorsed this past week-end were Linda Lee Tarver, an African-American from Lansing, and Tamara D. Carlone. These seats are also for eight-year terms. Democrats control this panel, 6-2, so they can’t do any better even if they finish 1-2 in the voting; if a Republican wins one of the top two spots, Democrats would recede to only a 5-3 majority, and if they lose both the panel would be deadlocked, 4-4 (it’s happened before, and the result wasn’t pretty). What’s most significant about Tarver’s and Carlone’s endorsements is that they beat a previous nominee, special needs activist Michelle Frederick, and, even more unusual, former board member Richard Zeile.
Tarver is a former Michigan Civil Rights Commissioner and “election integrity liaison” with the Michigan Department of State. She’s also a businesswoman, a parent advocate, and community activist for education, according to her website. Carlone is an education activist and a founding board member for the Michigan chapter of United States Parents involved in Education.
University of Michigan Board of Regents (two seats) Lena Epstein and Sevag Vartanian, two Southeast Michigan business personalities, received the Republican Party’s endorsements for the U-M Board of Regents. Again, a former board member was denied renomination. Andrea Fischer Newman, who previously served 16 years on the panel, could boast being a Trump appointee to a minor federal board but amazingly still lost.
Epstein is an Oakland Co. business owner and was joined on Saturday by Trump’s former attorney, Rudy Giuliani, who took to the stage in support of Epstein. Vartanian works in the financial sector and runs a boutique asset management firm, Vartanian Capital Management, according to his website.
The Democratic Party endorsed incumbents Kathy White and Mike Behm for the U-M panel two weeks ago. White, elected in 1998, is seeking a fourth term, while Behm was first elected to the board in 2014. Since Democrats now control the board, 6-2, they can’t improve their edge, whereas the Republicans could boost their representation to either 5-3 or a 4-4 tie if they sweep one or both seats.
Michigan State University Board of Trustees (two seats) Medical academic Travis Menge and veteran Mike Balow were endorsed by the Republican Party for two seats on the MSU Board of Trustees, which Democrats now control, 5-3.
Menge received over 40% of the vote in the first round of voting, meaning he automatically earned the endorsement, and Balow earned 74% of the vote in the second round, beating still another longtime incumbent, Melanie Foster. Menge lives in Grand Rapids and works as a clinical professor in MSU’s School of Medicine. Balow served as a naval officer in the U.S. Navy for seven years.
The two Republican endorsements are facing the Democratic Party’s endorsees, Renee Knake Jefferson and Dennis Denno. Jefferson, appointed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in 2019, is running for a second term. Denno is seeking his first term, but he was a Democratic nominee for the same panel back in 2010. Since Jefferson is an incumbent, she must win for the Dems’ 5-3 edge to stay the same; if Denno also wins, the Democrats go to 6-2. If Republicans can sweep both seats, they’ll produce a 4-4 board split.
Wayne State University Board of Governors (two seats) Here’s the one board Republicans have NEVER controlled, and it’s now 6-2 D/R. Craig Wilsher and Holland physician Christa Murphy got the Republican nods Saturday for two seats on the WSU board. Wilsher is a former law enforcement officer and an adjunct college professor, according to his campaign website.
Two weeks ago, the Democratic Party endorsed Marilyn Kelly and first-time candidate Danielle Atkinson, founder of Mothering Justice, for the WSU board. One of the truly amazing statewide politicians of the past six decades, Kelly was an elected member in 1964 of the original state Board of Education who later went on to be an elected Court of Appeals judge and, still later, a Supreme Court Justice for 16 years, including Chief Justice. Most recently, she got herself elected to the WSU panel, to which she is now seeking a second term. If she and Atkinson both win, the board stays 6-2 D/R; if either loses, it becomes 5-3 D/R; if both lose, it’s a 4-4 split.